Erie County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick said Monday he is weighing a Republican primary challenge to State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, a move that raises major questions about the incumbent’s ability to gain the local GOP endorsement for re-election this year.
Hardwick, based in the City of Tonawanda and recently re-elected to another term in County Hall, said Grisanti’s “terrible vote” on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s gun control law could render him vulnerable in a primary already being threatened by fellow Republican Kevin T. Stocker of Kenmore. But Hardwick said he fears that Stocker, who is already campaigning door-to-door, would lose to a Democrat in the November general election.
That could put the GOP coalition majority in the Senate at peril, Hardwick said, precipitating his discussions with other Republicans about taking on Grisanti.
“I think Mark knows he has real problems in a Republican primary against Kevin Stocker, that even if he wins in a primary, he might not in a general election,” Hardwick said. “I could.”
A former staff assistant to the late Senate Majority Leader Warren M. Anderson, Hardwick said his long ties to the Senate prompt a keen interest in retaining a Republican majority there. That edge is already diluted by the Republican power-sharing arrangement with four Democrats who formed their own independent caucus.
“Am I interested? Of course I am,” Hardwick said. “I am aware that people are talking and I get the sense I am in the mix.”
Hardwick also said he is concerned about a recent Politics Now blog in The Buffalo News indicating Grisanti’s close political adviser – former County Executive Joel A. Giambra – was discussing the possibility of Democrats authorizing Grisanti’s simultaneous candidacy on their line.
“If the judgement is that he can’t win a Republican primary and that he would then cross over to be with the Democrats, that makes it even worse,” Hardwick said.
He also raised the possibility that Grisanti’s vote in favor of Cuomo’s SAFE Act poses a major obstacle to local Republicans even granting their endorsement this year.
“If the party leaders determine he can win the primary and retain the seat, I would be reluctant to challenge him,” he said. “But I get the sense that’s not the way it’s going.”
Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said Monday he met with Grisanti last week and was assured the senator will not pursue the Democratic line. But Langworthy said Grisanti continues to be criticized for his SAFE Act vote, as recently as at a party roundtable meeting in Kenmore on Saturday.
“The SAFE Act is something that will not go away, and something the base of the party is still worked up about,” he said. “So am I.”
Langworthy said he remains “very disappointed” that Giambra broached a Grisanti candidacy on the Democratic line even if Grisanti has assured party leaders the idea is dead.
“He says it is no longer on the table but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” the chairman said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Some party insiders say Grisanti’s best chance to gain the Republican nomination will be via an open primary since several party leaders appear reluctant to grant him the endorsement, while Stocker is also not viewed as an endorsement option.
Meanwhile, Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo said Monday that he harbors serious reservations about a Hardwick candidacy because his departure from the County Legislature could jeopardize the one-vote majority coalition there led by the GOP. Still, Conservative backing for Grisanti remains unlikely because of his vote in favor of the SAFE Act.
Grisanti did not return a phone call seeking comment.